Animal Legislation A Highlight For November

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Since March, families across our county have been living life a bit differently than they had before COVID-19. Homes that once stood empty from 9-5 are now full of activity with parents, children and retirees spending more time at home than ever before. More time at home, uninterrupted from the usual hustle and bustle, has led to increased pet adoptions and sales from coast to coast. Pets can be exceptional companions, especially during this extraordinary time. Dogs, cats and other domesticated animals have been used for emotional support in the residential and professional setting for years. For most, they become a part of the family.

Ownership, though, comes with an enormous responsibility to humanely care for the animal and also ensure that the animal never creates a safety concern for itself or members of the community.

For decades, Anne Arundel County Animal Care and Control (AACACC) has been tasked with the responsibility of enforcing local and state laws, responding to animal-related complaints, conducting investigations regarding animal cruelty, investigating public safety concerns pertaining to animals and providing temporary housing for animals for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, the adoption of animals.

Local laws in AACACC’s toolbox are outdated and limit the ability for the department to fully protect the animal or animals most at risk. A recent story shared by Friends of Anne Arundel County Animal Care and Control told of two young male huskies that were held at AACACC six times within a year’s time for running at large, posing a risk to their own safety as well as the safety of the community and other pets. Current county laws prevented AACACC from taking any action beyond catching the dogs, holding them and releasing them to their owner with a fine. Unfortunately, a seventh incident occurred, resulting in the death of pet chickens, and the huskies were euthanized as required by law. This was certainly a situation that could have had a different outcome, had our county laws given more tools to the animal control officers.

Currently, there is no law, other than fines, for owners of pets that are repeatedly in violation of county law and a risk to themselves and the community. For animals that are seized, there is no process in place for their return, and the powers of the department and officers are unclear in certain circumstances.

Bill 89-20 clarifies the roles and authority of AACACC officers, increases penalties for owners whose pets violate laws three or more times in a two-year period, clarifies the appellate process for the owner, and defines requirements of the owner, under certain conditions for return. This legislation was introduced by the Pittman administration, and I am a sponsor of this bill that would increase these protections for domesticated animals and the community. It is not unusual for pet owners to feel overwhelmed and challenged by their pet, but the humane care and safety of the community is of utmost importance.

The majority of pet owners in Anne Arundel County take every action necessary to develop a positive relationship between their pet, family and neighborhood. Often, owners call on the “experts” to tackle a variety of issues from general training of a young animal, to obedience training for more individualized challenges. Pet training is often an invaluable preventative investment that pet owners make.

In recent months, I was contacted by the owner of a pet training business, who was finding it challenging to locate the type of training facility her family had envisioned to better serve the county. The lack of one word, “training,” in the definition of “pet care business” in our animal control laws, and in uses for “commercial kennels” in our zoning laws have prevented this business and service from becoming a reality.

In November, the Anne Arundel County Council will hear and vote on my bill, 87-20, that would define “training” as an allowable use in the home pet care business and in commercial kennels.

As families across the county welcome new pets into their homes, these two pieces of legislation aim to protect the animals, the community and allow invaluable services to be available in a whole new way.

For information on these and other pieces of legislation before the county council, visit www.aacounty.org/departments/county-council/legislation.

To reach me for constituent concerns or questions on legislation, email amanda.fiedler@aacounty.org.

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